Baker, Ahles & Kaskovich

After 15 years, Pentagon says pilots not to blame for fatal V-22 crash

Brooke Gruber holding up memorabilia from her late father, Major Brooks Gruber, in 2011.
Brooke Gruber holding up memorabilia from her late father, Major Brooks Gruber, in 2011. JEFF JANOWSKI/STAR-TELEGRAM

For more than a decade, the wives of Marine Corps pilots Maj. Brooks Gruber and Lt. Col. John Brow have sought to clear the names of their late husbands, who were blamed for the crash of a MV-22 Osprey in the Arizona desert in April 2000, killing them and 17 others.

Last week, the Pentagon did just that.

According to a report by Stars and Stripes, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work wrote that after a review of all investigations and reports on the crash, “I disagree with the characterization that the pilots’ drive to accomplish the mission was ‘the fatal factor’ in the crash.”

He said that while human factors contributed to the accident, other events leading up to fatal flight made the event “probable, or perhaps inevitable.”

“It is clear that there were deficiencies in the V-22’s development and engineering and safety programs that were corrected only after the crash — and these deficiencies likely contributed to the accident and its fatal outcome. I therefore conclude it is impossible to point to a single ‘fatal factor’ that caused this crash,” Work wrote, according to the report.

Initially, a Marine investigation found that a “combination of human factors” — interpreted as pilot error — was the primary cause of the crash, which occurred during a combat test flight.

At the time, the V-22 — manufactured by Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter and Boeing — was a program under fire. In development since 1981, at a cost approaching $15 billion, pressure was mounting for the military to move forward with operational testing of the novel tilt-rotor aircraft, which could take off like a helicopter and fly like an airplane.

But the aircraft was still in the experimental phase, and pilots were struggling to understand how it reacted in certain situations, such as high-speed descents.

According to Star-Telegram reports, the V-22 piloted by Brow and Gruber made a steep descent that night before rolling uncontrollably to the right and slamming into the ground upside down.

The V-22 program survived and the tilt-rotor is now being used overseas. Bell-Boeing has delivered some 230 V-22s, assembled in Amarillo, to the U.S. military.

Chesapeake lease cases live on

Former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon’s death in a fiery car crash in Oklahoma won’t put the brakes on civil cases filed against him.

McClendon, 56, died Wednesday after slamming his sport utility vehicle into a concrete embankment in Oklahoma City. The accident occurred the day after the energy executive was indicted by the federal government for bid-rigging on oil and gas leases in northwest Oklahoma.

Oklahoma City police said it may be several weeks before their investigation is complete, and declined to speculate on whether the collision was intentional. Federal authorities later announced that they plan to drop the charges against him.

But his death raised questions about the status of lawsuits filed against him and Chesapeake here and across the country, alleging that they cheated landowners out of royalty income. McClendon actively avoided sitting down for depositions in those cases, and now the attorneys handling them cases will never have the chance of questioning him under oath.

But someone close to the cases tells us that they have emails and other evidence to help their case in court. It’s not as good as going one-on-one, but it will have to do.

The first of those cases is scheduled to go to trial in April.

“While this is tragic, it will have no impact on the cases at all,” the source said.

On an interesting side note, it appeared that Chesapeake was getting some immunity from its financial woes following McClendon’s indictment. Its stock rose more than 80 percent last week following the news that it was cooperating with the feds in its inquiry against its former leader.

Mexican airline lands at DFW

Interjet, a low-fare Mexican carrier, landed its inaugural flight at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on Thursday.

The airport welcomed the airline with its usual “shower of affection” water cannon salute. Interjet will operate two daily flights from DFW to Mexico City.

“As travel to Mexico continues to flourish and now represents just over 40 percent of DFW’s international passenger travel, there’s an even stronger need to provide choices that accommodate flexible schedules and varied price points,” said DFW’s CEO Sean Donohue in a statement. “Interjet offers travelers low-fare flights to exciting destinations, and DFW Airport is pleased to now be part of that network.”

The daily flights will depart at 6:15 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Interjet will use a Superjet 100 aircraft on the route.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko